The case of alleged corruption first shocked Luzerne County residents in January 2009 when federal prosecutors announced that the respected county judgesCiavarella and Michael Conahan had pleaded guilty to tax evasion and honest services fraud. However, the plea deal and relatively light sentence were later rejected by a federal judge who ruled that Ciavarella had failed to accept responsibility for the crimes.
Wilkes-Barre residents exploded with anger when they heard that men they elected, and trusted to judge their children, had allegedly profited from their incarceration.
Conahan pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy on July 23, 2010. He faces up to 20 years, but has not yet been sentenced.
Eric Stefanski had never been in trouble before he found himself in front of Ciavarella, who took office in 1996.
"I was 12 years old when I got locked up. I had no clue what to say when he asked me how do I plead," Stefanski told "20/20" correspondent Jim Avila in a March 2009 report. "I was 12 years old. I didn't know too much about the court system."
Stefanski went joyriding with his mom's car and ran over a barrier, smashing the undercarriage. No one was hurt, not even Stefanski, but in order to get his insurance to pay for the damage, his mom, Linda Donovan, had to file a police report. Donovan even thought an appearance before a judge would be good for her son and give him a little scare. She wasn't prepared for what happened when Eric came before Ciavarella.
"He read me my charges and said, 'How do you plead?' And I didn't know what to say, so I looked at my mom, and I guess she didn't know I was looking, and I said, 'Guilty,'" Stefanski recalled. "That's when I turned around, I looked at my mom and she started crying."
Stefanski was locked up for two years. He was not represented by an attorney, his mom said, because she didn't think he needed one.
"His first offense, he's so young, I just didn't think that it was necessary," Donovan said.
It's not supposed to be like this in juvenile court, where incarceration is considered the last resort, legal experts said. But Levick told ABC News she saw a disturbing trend inside Ciavarella's courtroom.
Levick claimed the kids going into placement in Luzerne Country tended to be two to three times higher than other countries and the kids were being locked up for minor infractions. "A child who shoplifted a $4 bottle of nutmeg," she said. "A child who was charged with conspiracy to shoplift because he was present when his friend was shoplifting. A child who put up a MySpace page, taunting her school administrator.
"I think what we have here in Luzerne County is probably the most egregious abuse of power in the history of the American legal system," Levick said.
Levick turned her findings over to the FBI, and the outcome rocked the Pennsylvania justice system.
Ciavarella and Conahan allegedly devised a plot to use their positions as judges to pad their pockets. They shut down the old county-run juvenile detention center by first refusing to send kids there and, then, by cutting off funds, choking it out of existence.